All roads should lead to Clarens. Especially in February, when it’s time for SA’s best Beer Fest. I have been privileged to attend a lot of Beer Festivals in the last two years; this was my second Clarens Beer Fest and it’s now officially an unmissable event in my calendar.
Why is it South Africa’s best? Well, there are a lot of reasons. First, the Eastern Free State has got to be one of the most scenic and beautiful places in the world – the lush green rolling hills and unique rock formations are simply magnificent. Second, Clarens itself is delightfully old-fashioned. A remnant of bygone town planning, the communal grass square serves as an awesome platform for a Beer Festival. Third, all the Brewers have to be present. This is a big drawcard for me, as some brands at other Festivals are happy to have poppies flaunting their wares, or are content to hire staff to pour their beer. Most of these hired beer dispensers have little or no knowledge of their product. Their apathy irritates me, and makes me not want to consume their products. In Clarens the Brewer is right there at the stall, pouring your beer and answering questions like, “Whats your grain bill?” Ask a hired poppie that question and you might get a pearly-white smile and a “Er – I’m not sure what I spend on cereal.” So Clarens is great for both more seasoned travelers and those starting their journey. Finally, each brewer has to brew a new beer specifically for the festival. Therefore 20 new and unique beers are present for me to whisper to. Some of them sung sweetly, others barked loudly and some yapped away at my ankles. Twenty new rides for me to go on, along with all the old favourites. Disneyland for Beer lovers!!
My favourites this year included the three “Best of Shows”, so the judges and I agreed. My breakfast, That Brewing Co’s AM Stout really showed off some great American hop aroma while dancing on a sweet, malty stage. The guys from Smack!Republic never disappoint and their Nut Brown Ale was so moreish I’m sure I put a serious dent in the one 50 litre keg they brewed. Needless to say the keg finished early on the second day. Third spot went to new guys Riot Beer Factory with a fantastically balanced Simcoe IPA. This single hop beaut was what I use to punctuate all the other beers, and I always seemed to go back to guys at Riot with a big smile on my face.
Perhaps the biggest highlight though (as is the case every year) was the people. Some people say you’re only as good as the beer you drink. Well, I reckon you’re only as good as the people you drink beer with. What a privilege to be able to share this great occasion with so many legendary beer lovers. See you next year Clarens – I will (and will not!) miss you.